Sunday, May 31, 2009


I never did like Prom. 

Prom always felt like an obligatory rite of passage, a ritualistic ceremony, more sacrament then social hootenanny. Prom is too serious, too planned, and too expensive to be "fun". Fun is about spontaneity and irreverence, it is about living in the moment and not taking things seriously.

High school students take prom deadly serious.

Several years ago I "volunteered" to help chaperon a prom.  It was a long night at a downtown hotel.  I ate some bad chicken, took pictures of students playing adult, and left when the dance floor turned into a mass of grinding bodies. A few teachers dared to go into the middle of that bacchanal revelry armed with no more then a flash light and a heavy frown.

I kept my distance. It looked like an invitation to an STD.

I skipped the next two proms after that, but this year was slightly different. The class of 2009 is graduating, the first class from South East to have attended all four years since the school was founded in 2005.

That and Garcia guilts me into it. When I tell her I'm not going she gives me a hurt puppy dog look. I hate that look. She doesn't say anything, she doesn't have too. How can you not go Leiken? It's our Seniors! We've known these kids for four years!

Actually, I've known them for four, Garcia has only known them for only three.

I don't make any promises to TFA do-gooders.

Then I make a mistake, I stop by a co-workers birthday at Bar Libitch off Santa Monica.

Like most LA bar/clubs, Bar Libitch resembles a red bordello and stars an attention deficit disorder DJ.  She starts one song, plays it for one minute, then launches into a new song.

The girls dance in the middle of the floor, shaking their booty while the men prowl around the edges, waiting for the alcohol to kick in.

A whole genre of frat boy movies, beer commercials, and MTV have taught us that this is the "life", that going to places like bar Libitch is the be all end all.

I'll last 75 minutes.

That's when I run into Garcia, she asks me if I'm going to the Prom.

"Maybe." I reply. "I've got a birthday party to attend."

Garcia hits me with the look.

God DAMN it.

Saturday I pick up Mr. C. and we trek down to the Long Beach Hilton.  It's a nice hotel possessed of the bland elegance nice hotels are infamous for,  two miles from the infamous Queen Mary.   Prom is held up on the second floor in the ballroom, its three star elegant - fancy, but not too fancy.   There are gold streamers hanging from the ceiling, white linen tables, and several hundred seniors who are barely recognizable in tuxedo and gown.

I typically only see them in Dodger jerseys, t-shirts and jeans.

The girls wear a wide variety of dresses.   Some have long flowing gowns that fall behind them and float over the ground like a passing river, others are garbed in two piece dresses that reveal their midriff.   Some flash cleavage, others remain more conservative and wear gowns suitable for Judi Dench.

The boys wear three three piece tuxes, many are traditional, but some wear "zoot suits" with 1940's fedora's - for some reason they remind me of wolves in a Tex Avery cartoon.    A few boys wear white, I have to resist the temptation to call one "waiter."

A handful of students approach and we exchange awkward pleasantries.  They are happy to see me, but unsure of what to say - which makes two of us.    In their minds, I'm the incorrigible Mr. Leiken, the "pirate" teacher.   The prom is a different social context, we're not in the classroom, but it is still a school event.

Just how does one talk to a teacher at a party?   Etiquette falls into normal patterns - I call them by their first name and they call me "Mister."


I take photos and keep the conversations brief.   Who the hell wants to talk to a teacher during prom?

Garcia approaches, "You came!" she exclaims.

Guilt has now been alleviated, I'm free to go.  I stay to watch the prom king and queen get crowned, the queen is a small mousy girl, which surprises me.    The students at South East don't compete for titles like other schools - its much more congenial.   Most are too shy or embarrassed to stand in front of a crowd.   Everyone wants to fit in so badly that no one dares to fit out, even if that means being the center of attention.

The dancing starts soon after, and I know the bumping and grinding won't be far behind.  

Time to go.  It's good not having to chaperon.

Monday, May 25, 2009

LA Marathon

Bad weather doesn't close down roads in LA.   Much like wrinkled skin, LA doesn't believe in bad weather.
LA does believe in marathons.  What better way to improve your health and support a cause while simultaneously stroking your vanity and the envy of your friends?

LA is the marathon mecca of the world.   There are gay pride marathons, breast cancer marathons, peace marathons, a slew of mini marathons, 5k and 10k runs.  There are even awareness walks for the physically challenged.  In any given month the greater Los Angeles area can have 20 or 30 marathons.  

Check it out for yourself.

No matter where I live in LA, the marathons pursue me like the hounds of hell, every year they find a way to disrupt my life.   

When I first moved to LA I lived off of Virgil Ave, just east of the Vermont iron curtain in what whites refer to as the "forbidden zone".    The LA marathon cruised directly down the street below my apartment.   From 6 in the morning until 1 pm,  I would hear nothing but endless cheering and the French/Canadian guy from the Waterboy shout:  "You can do it!"

I would valiantly try to sleep.

Clap, clap, clap.  "You can do it!"

I couldn't even leave, the car garage opened out into the street with the marathon.  

Clap, clap, clap.  "You can do it!"

"Shut the hell up!"

Clap, clap, clap.  "You can do it!"

Three years later I moved to the corner of Fairfax and Beverly.   This time the LA marathon runs 40 feet away from the house down Beverly and Fairfax.   Amazingly, the French/Canadian cousin of the first guy was directly out on the street.

Clap, clap, clap.  "You can do it!"

You have got to be kidding me.  Please, God, did you not want me to feel left out of the snow and ice and mud that mires the rest of the country?   

Clap, clap, clap.  "You can do it!"

The marathon blocks off everything north and west, and traffic funnels down to a couple narrow roads in an attempt to circumvent it.  

I'm not going anywhere.  

Clap, clap, clap, "You can do it!"

Twice I've randomly been driving through the city on Sunday morning in an attempt to avoid traffic only to be blocked by the ever ubiquitous marathon.   I stop being a person in a car, I become a rat in a maze, trying to veer around the mob of sweating bodies, police officers, and meter maids.  

It's no use.  Its like fighting a tidal wave.

This year my car has broken down.  The battery is dead, and I need to call AAA.   

Clap, clap, clap.  "You can do it!"

The marathon is going up and down La Cienega.  It's about a half block away.  It then turns East down Pico.   I'm screwed.  Those two streets have been swarmed by a mob of human bodies, alternatively running, walking, gasping and crawling their way on an imaginary exodus.   

I'm not going anywhere.   I decide to watch the marathon briefly.   

If you've seen one marathon, you've seen them all.  People of all ages, shapes, and sizes, gasping and wheezing as they putter by, all of them wearing pained expressions of agony.

Jesus would be proud.

At this point, a kid in a big wheel would probably beat most of them in a foot race.

A southern rock band with a touch of country performs on a stage in front of a 7-11 as the runners drag themselves up the road.   I spot a woman running with her baby in a stroller.

I clap my hands.  "You can do it!" I shout.   

I've never understood why people find it fascinating to go out and watch a marathon.   Watching people suffer as they drive their bodies beyond the limits of human endurance is not what I call a good time.   Still, people are lined up on both sides of the street, cheering, clapping, handing out cups of water.  

It gives me a new appreciation for The Passion of the Christ.

I cut through the crowd to get across the street.   Even though I'm moving at a walk, I'm liquid lighting compared to most of the runners.   Moving across a marathon is like the first level of Frogger,  anyone can do it.   Fat Albert could do it, a guy in a wheel chair could do it, a senior citizen with a walker -

-well maybe not a senior citizen with a walker.

I think Frogger was probably conceptualized by a guy who had been forced to cut through a marathon.  

Clap, clap, clap!  You can do it!


Monday, May 18, 2009

Wellness Fair

On Saturday I attend a "Wellness Fair" in old town Pasadena.

It's a homeopathic convention mixed with a sprinkling of organic food vendors. After my recent "health" scare, I'm attending because there maybe something I could eat or purchase that would prevent future acid reflux.

Of course I could just try table spoons of baking soda mixed with a glass of warm water, but where's the fun in that?
It costs $8 to get in plus $7 to park. A woman in a tie-dye shirt hands me a black "goodie" bag full of coupons and a bottle of natural organic water. Inside the bag is a canister of cashew nut juice (did you know that the cashew is not just a nut, it is also a fruit!) coupons to help me embrace my shakti, tools for self healing and transformation, crystal bed healing, spiritual coaches, and psychics to help connect to "the other side".

There is even a pouch with a reddish rock shard to help with energy healing. According to the pamphlet, energy healing isn't better then traditional methods, just different.

I'm sticking with coffee.

Inside, the convention center is full of vendors. There are food vendors selling all natural vegan brownies, all natural vegan nut mix, all natural vegan cookies, all natural vegan berry juice with no preservatives. They offer free samples, which lacking artificial flavoring, sugar, or milk, has that authentic all natural vegan lack of taste.

The fruit juice is bitter and strong. "So this is organic?" I ask.

The rep chuckles. "Oh no, we don't like to use the word organic. After the government got a hold of organic products they started using pesticides. Our juice is "nature-ganic", or "true-ganic."

"Damn government." I mutter.

The rep warms up, expounds upon the virtues of his all natural berry drink.

I grunt. There's a reason why Welch's using sugar in its juice products.

I pass by a hypnotherapist. She charges $125 per session to hypnotize you and then run you through a therapy session when you are in an extremely relaxed state. She has a board of 144 ailments listing all the things she can help with: self-confidence, weight control, smoking, nail biting, anger management, test anxiety, glamour shots, stress, even writer's block.

I talk to her for a few minutes, and next thing I know she won't stop. It's like talking to that ugly person at the bus station who doesn't have any friends and is grateful for human contact but also is trying to bum you for a dollar. After five minutes I leave.

Her eyes watch me hungrily.

I speak with an acupunturist who claims he can rebalance your inner chi with the help of colored visor glasses - he has one of each color on a stand. I fill out a disclaimer form and he "examines" me. I tell him I have acid reflux and he begins pushing on my arms and legs. A minute later he hands me an orange colored visor. "Wear this," he instructs.

I hate the color orange.

A minute later he pronounces judgement. "You are having problems with your gall bladder, but it is linked to a chemical imbalance and your emotional state. We have to cure all three if we are going to solve your acid reflux."

"How often would I have to wear the glasses?"

"Only during acupunture sessions."

I thank him and take his card. Forget that. Don't like orange.

I spot a massage chair with a built in massage machine. It's extremely plush. The vendor hits a button and a minute later the chair is massaging my lower back and shoulders as it gently squeezes my calves. It's a pretty amazing chair.

All for the amazing price of $3500.

I speak to a woman about her biofeedback machine. It's an electronic device that she attaches to your head and which then measures your bodies electrical energy. The machine sends electronic pulses through your body to readdress its inbalance. "It's amazing," she gushes. "The inventor is a scientist at NASA, he's one of the guys that helped Apollo 13 land safely."

I grunt. Encouraged she continues.

"The device can cure almost anything. The problem with medicine is that patients often lie to their doctors, but the biofeedback scanner measures your body, and there is no way your body can lie to the machine. It will discover things wrong with you that you didn't even know about!"

"Can it cure gonorrhea?"


"How much for a session?"

"Twenty five dollars for a half hour. You know it cured the scientists son. He had severe autism, now he's fully functioning, has a job. I'm telling you the biofeedback scanner is amazing!"

I pass.

A minute later I'm complaining about all the "quacks" to Mr. C when a Russian jeweler, stand covered in "power stones" overhears me.

"My friend, you don't believe in biofeedback?"

"I believe other people believe in biofeedback. I don't believe an electrical machine from Dr. Frankenstein's lab will solve my problems."

"No problem," the Russian gushes, "I love cynics! Would you like to try a test?"

I shrug. The Russian has me place my feet together and hold out my left hand, he places a hematite stone with a hollowed center in my palm. He instructs Mr. C to watch. "Now I am going to push on your right hand, you try to resist me."

I nod as he starts pushing, I remain standing. Then he removes the stone from my palm and pushes - I stumble.

"There you see! Stone makes you stronger. This is scientific, my brother in law from Russian space program invented it!" He points to a photo of a group of Russian cosmonauts. "My brother in law has been experimenting with energy, and he has found certain stones have energy waves that strengthen the body."

I raise an eyebrow. "How do I know you just didn't push harder the second time?"

The Russian is ready for this, he looks at Mr. C, who appears confused. "I don't know Brian, I think he was pushing harder the first time."

We try it again, but this time the Russian has a pressure gauge. I hold the stone and he pushes, gauge in hand. Pressure 50. I put the stone down and he pushes a second time - once again I topple over. Pressure 35.

"There you see my friend, I actually push harder first time. These stones are mathematically aligned with geometric formulas that enhance strength."

I don't have a ready explanation - could be the gauge is rigged, could be some kind of judo move that he uses when he wants to throw me off balance.

"How much are you selling these for?" I ask.

"May I ask what you do?"

"I'm a teacher."

"Well, because you are a teacher, and teachers don't have much money, $100."

I thank him for his time. He hands me his card, he claims he has his own jewelry shop, he just comes to homeopathy conventions to spread the word and for "fun".

"I don't do this for the money."

I nod. "Five dollars then?"

He laughs.

Outside a group of people of all ages have formed a drum circle. A belly dancer twirls a pair of hulu-hoops around her body as a drum circle leader directs the drummers, they strike their drums in a frenzy before he quiets them down in a rhythmic hush.

The hippies and granola are like anti-conservative spray, as liberal as I am even I'm starting to get a little dizzy. It's "spiritual-materialism", an intoxicating spiritual blend of shopping mall sentimentality, a hippie Disneyland for those who prefer their spirituality light and airy minus all the difficulties of mediation and sacrifice.

A couple days later I talk about it at work, mostly to make fun of it. Karen, who was with me at the convention, tries not to get offended.

"Leiken, you slept on the crystal mat, didn't you feel better afterward?"

"Of course I did, the mat was heated and it was comfortable. I had a nice nap."

"You were supposed to meditate."

"It was only $550. Why didn't you purchase one?"

Karen shakes her head. "I pity you Leiken. You are so closed minded you can't believe in anything."

No easter bunny.
No Santa Claus.
And no Uncle Mikey!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Parrot Head

Last Halloween I dressed up as a parrot. I purchased the costume for $59.99 which included the "fake" parrot feet and a full bodied parrot head complete with beak. I spent the day roaming into classrooms with Mr. C - he was the pirate, I was the parrot. I would then start dancing and Mr. C would give out candy to any student in costume.

It was exhausting. For a one time costume, all in all a poor investment.

I left the costume at work, tossing into a crate of hats and toys I keep under my desk. The crate has pirate hats, a jester's cap, a Darth Vader helmet (complete with Vader voice activation), a miniature M1 Abrams battle tank, a George Bush doll (missing a foot - long story), a child size megaphone, a fake rubber bat, and mixed assortment of Star Wars Pez dispensers.

Most of these are gifts - honest.

A few months ago a student entered the room and told me it was their birthday. On a whim I whipped out the parrot hat and started singing Happy Birthday, pecking them on the head.

It's become something of a thing.

Today it was Susan, a petite goth girl who loves the Twilight novels and wears one color - black. Susan skips into the room and kicks upward with one foot, she's wearing a pretty black dress.

This is unusual. "What's going on?" I ask.

"It's my birthday! Aren't you going to sing me happy birthday? Check the roll! Honest!"

"You bet I am Susan!" I whip out the parrot head, put it on and start singing, pecking Susan's forehead between each verse. Naturally I sing off key.

Susan blushes and ducks. She's not used to this kind of attention. She's both flattered and embarrassed, but she doesn't move until I finish the song.

The class cheers.

Besides singing birthday songs I've found another use for the parrot head.

It's great for shaming kids.

Typically when a student upsets me, I whip out the parrot head and start following them around the school. It's amazing how effective a tool this is, I've yet to see a student stand up to it without caving in.

For some reason they think it's really embarrassing when I start squawking like crazy.

Today I'm in Bustamante's room, the students are watching Super Size Me when Bustamante has to exit the room. Even though I'm still there, a few of them see this as the perfect time to start talking.

I ask them to be quiet. I give them one warning, and then "it's on."

One of Bustamante's more troubling students is Alfonso. Alfonso is a heavy set immature 9th grader who thinks "everything is gay" and blurts out stupid answers to get a laugh from his friends. Today he's talking during the film. "Alfonso, you need to move."

"But I'm not doing anything!"

I'm in no mood to argue. "Last chance. Move."

Alfonso stays put. I shake my head. This is not the first time I've warned him. A month earlier I threatened him with the parrot head and told him I would follow him during lunch.

Like a wuss I showed mercy and let him do 15 minutes with me during the lunch period in my room. Then I let him go. "Don't do this again, or you know what will happen."

But like most kids, after a few weeks his bad behaviors reassurted themselves. I go back to my room and collect the parrot head, then I ask him to move again.

Alfronso remains put.

I sit inbetween him and his friend, invading his comfort zone as I direct my gaze at my face. For the next 45 minutes, I don't move, remaining focused on him like a laser. Alfonso hates it. He avoids my gaze, turning his face towards the desk or the movie. He then shifts through his backpack, pulls out a notebook and practices a tag. Shifting, he pays attention to the film, and answers a few questions on his worksheet, then tries to talk to his friend.

I don't move.

Alfonso puts his head down. I get up to stretch, cracking my back, watching Alfonso as he breathes a sigh of relief.

I sit back down next to him. "Awwww, man..."

At the end of class I tell him to stay. He wants to run away, but I explain that if he runs away it will be worse. "You know I'll find you." I state calmly. "Time for you to man up, or you can act like a child and run away. What's it going to be?"

This shames him into staying.

At the end of class I ask him why he didn't move. Alfonso protests, starts complaining that he didn't do anything. "Why are you dogging me? I didn't do anything, other people were talking."

I shrug. "I don't know. Guess life's unfair." I lean in. "Honestly, I really don't feel like following you during lunch. So you can either give me your I-pod or some other collateral and I'll give it back to you at the end of the day, come up with your own punishment, or I follow you around during lunch? What's it going to be?"


I purse my lips and make a half wheezing, half dying gasp whine. "Detention. Bah! I don't believe in detention! Something else! Should I sit next to you another whole period?"

Alfonso says nothing, stares into space. "I don't know, you decide."

"Parrot head it is!" I declare. "Let's go."

Alfonso walks quickly down the stairway, not quite running away, but trying to keep at least six paces ahead of me. I put on the head and follow him, openly asking him where we're going, making sure to call out his name.

We make it outside and some of the other students from the class spot us. They point and laugh. "Leiken's got you!" they cry out. "Leiken's got you!"

Alfonso looks at no one, he stares straight ahead, ignoring everyone around us. We pass a group of tougher students leaning against the wall. They call out as I walk by. "What's with the parrot head?" they ask.

I squawk.

Alfonso picks up speed. He scurries into the A building and enters a room full of students sitting quietly.

One of the aides, Erin, is at the front. "As soon as I saw that parrot, I knew it had to be you Leiken."

Alfonso remains silent.

"Is this detention?" I ask.

"Yeah, they can elect to do it during lunch. Does this count for him?"

I glance down at Alfonso. "Nah. He came here to hide. This counts for nothing." I pull off the parrot head. "His name's Alfonso. If he leaves, let me know."

As I walk back across the quad I grin evilly.

$59.99 for a parrot costume wasn't overpriced at all.

It was a bargain.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Welcome Back Mr. Leiken

I return to school on Thursday.

My chest aches and it's hard to take a deep breath.   
Bah, I can handle it.   

Did the Black Knight in Monty Python and The Holy Grail quit after he lost both his arms and legs?   Hell no!   Did Jack stop telling Rose that the loved her after he was freezing his cajones off in the North Atlantic?  Hell no!    

Did the Terminator ever give up?  Hell no!  (Until it got crushed by that steam pressure thing.)

On the way to work I pick up my ritualistic large cup of coffee.

I've been gone three days, it feels like two weeks.   I find a note from Ms. Owens on my desk wishing me well, and more importantly, a pair of Reeses Peanut Butter cups.   Maybe I should get sick more often?

Juiliet enters, looking relieved that I'm back.  She normally hangs out with me in the morning, either to catch up on homework, surf the internet, or complain about how much South East "sucks".   Today she's just happy I've returned.

"Don't die mister."

"I'll try."

More students enter.  Your back Mr. Leiken, your back!   We heard you had swine flu, are you contagious?

I hold my hand over my mouth and "cough" on a few of my more troublesome students.  They squirm in their seats, for the first time their good all year.

"WE missed you Mr. Leiken!"

"Man, am I glad your back Leiken!"

"We love you Mr. Leiken!"

I hold up my hands.  "I know."

"You can't die until we graduate, sir.  Who else is going to help us?"

I tell my class why I was out, relate my hospital adventure for the tenth time in 3 days.   I explain to them that while I'm back, if they give me a hard time or make my blood pressure rise for even an instant, they're gone.  

The class is amazingly productive.  For once, everyone is working.

I should definitely get sick more often.

That's when the coffee hits - my pulse starts racing, I feel ill all over again.   My aide sadly shakes his head.   "I told you Leiken, you have acid reflux.  You are going to have to give up the coffee."


"Then get used to a life time of pain."

By noon home is looking pretty good.

The majority of the teachers tell me I should have taken more time off.   Duran shakes his head. "Y'know Mr. Leiken, the school can always replace you, but your family can't.  Why are you back so soon?"

Hell if I know.  Bored, I guess.

Students slip into my room throughout the day, curious to know if I'm okay.   I tell them I'm fine, but I'm not 100%.   They tell me I should have stayed at home.

By the end of the day I collect my get well tribute.

One origami rose, made out of white paper signed with an anonymous  "We Love Leiken."

One get well poster, signed by the comedy club.  The poster has a drawing of me looking stressed next to a torso of "pirate booty."   The other comedy club members are also sketched onto the poster.

One pair of Reeses Peanut Butter Cups.

One get well heart shaped card.

One headache, courtesy of my more annoying students.

One upset stomach and racing pulse, courtesy large cup of cheap black coffee.

On Friday I call out again.   

It's the most time I've taken off in almost 5 years.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Ceders Sinai

Sunday night I awake in a hot sweat.
The only problem - I'm alone.

I roll over.  No good, I can feel my heart racing, my pulse thundering in my ears.   I tryto relax, take long deep breaths, but the best I can manage are short, tiny gasps.   After fifteen minutes I get up and measure my pulse.

110 beats per minute.  That would be great, if I was running a marathon.

Now I'm concerned.   Could I be having a heart attack?   I decide to do what I always do when I'm feeling sick.

I turn on the TV.

I click on the DVR and watch episodes of Breaking Bad, Lost, 30 Rock, and Family Guy.   After a few hours, I feel slightly better, but my pulse is still racing.

Should I call in sick?   I hate calling in sick, I consider illness a personal affront, an insult to my well being, a mockery of my values.  Sick?  I don't get sick.  When I'm not feeling well I just ignore it until it goes away.

But then I think about having to handle a room full of sarcastic, ill-mannered teenagers, and I silently cringe.   A few minutes later I'm dialing up the school to explain I'm taking an illness day.

I call to ask Garcia if she can watch my class, when I tell her what's wrong she admonishes me to go the doctor.

"Sure," I lie, "I'll see him today."

In the five years I've had medical insurance, I never once seen my doctor.  

I doze briefly, but my pulse continues to surge, my breath is still short, and I feel a slight twinge over my heart.

A few hours later other teachers from the school call concerned.   I tell Kazani I haven't been to the doctor yet, she calls out the big guns and puts Owens on the phone.  "Brian," Owens exclaims, "Forget the doctor!  You need to go the emergency room!"

I don't want to go, but I can feel myself start to panic.  What if this is serious?   I tell her I'll go.

Only problem, I'm not sure which emergency room I'm supposed to go to.   I call my provider and they tell me to go to Cedars Sinai, which is about a mile and a half away in Beverly Hills.

Cedars Sinai is the hospital of the celebrity, their agents and managers, and wealthy Jews. It's Hollywood Hospital, arguably the most cutting edge, most well equipped, and best funded hospital in the United States, if not the planet.

Having Blue Cross doesn't suck.

I drive to Cedars, park in the wrong building, then walk two blocks to the Emergency Room.   When I walk in a nurse asks me for my name and my symptoms.   I explain what has happened and she nods.  "Why didn't you come in last night?" she asks.

There is only one answer she wants to hear.   "Because I'm stupid."

Mollified, she nods again, has a technician give me an EKG.   From there I go and sit the next two hours in the waiting room.  I debate calling friends and family.  Do I tell them, and if I do, aren't I just scaring them?   

But then, what if I'm really about to go down for good?

I decide to wait and finish a book my roommate let me borrow.  Jumper.  So much better then the movie.    

A couple hours later I'm admitted into the ER.  I put on a hospital gown and take off my shoes. A lab tech takes a chest X-Ray, and a minute later a doctor enters with a nurse.  I explain my symptoms and she goes from mildly concerned to openly alarmed.   A minute later I'm put on oxygen to help my breathing and I'm hooked up to a monitor which measures my pulse and every few minutes checks my blood pressure.

Now I am scared.   With a heavy sigh I get out the phone, call work and fill them in on the details so they don't worry more.  Kazani and Garcia both offer to come visit.   I tell Kazani it would be great, I know it's not out of the way for her, she passes by the hospital on her way home.   I tell Garcia to go home.

For her, the hospital is on the other side of town.

A nurse enters and takes several vials of blood, gives me an IV of nitro and glycerin.   Why are explosives are good for your blood?   Who knows?

Kazani enters and stares at me with saucer wide eyes, seeing me hooked up to an IV, breathing tube and monitor in a hospital gown is a bit of a shock.   I ask her about the gossip at school, turns out it's me, I'm the gossip.

I have her take a couple of photos on her I-Phone, all of which I pose for with my trademark thumbs up pirate "arrgh".   I figure if I'm dying, this is how I want to be remembered. 

"Have you called your sister, Leiken?"  Kazani asks.


"Call your sister!"

I call my sister, tell her to leave a message for Mom.  I don't want to hear her panic over the phone.  I leave a message for my father, call Harry and quickly explain the situation.

I leave everyone else in the dark.  What's the point?   They can't help me and I'd just make them worry.

A tech named Victor arrives to explain the battery of tests I'm going to go through including a pair of chest X-Rays and a stress test. "It takes about 3 hours. They put you on a tread mill."

"For 3 hours?" I ask, incredulous.

"Yes." He replies.  I stare dumbfounded.  "I'm joking." He adds.  

"Can I at least go to the bathroom?"

"No."  I stare at him.  "I'm kidding."

This time I chuckle.  "You this funny with everyone?"

Victor shrugs.  "Don't worry, you'll be fine.  I've helped lots of people, you don't look anywhere near death."

"How do you know that?"

"You're laughing at my jokes."

I'm tempted to ask if that's what killed the other patients.

The nurses wheel me out for a special chest X-ray.  I'm injected with minute traces of gamma radiation (LEIKEN SMASH), then lay down on a platform which lifts me up into a machine that reminds me of a C-SCAN.    The machine rotates as it photographs my heart and gamma radioactive blood. 

Then I'm wheeled out on the bed for a stress test.   I feel like I'm 6.   "Wheeee!" I cry out.

The nurse looks embarrassed.   

"You know, I can walk myself."
"I'm sorry Mr. Leiken, that's against regulations."

I sigh.  A moment later I raise up my hands again.  "Wheee!"

The nurse still looks embarrassed. 

The stress test is a tread mill with wooden handles surrounded by about fifty thousand dollars of expensive looking equipment.   A cardio specialist tells me to try to stay calm and keep pace. It takes about 10 minutes, every 2 1/2 they raise the pace while the cardiologist monitors the readouts like a hawk.  

I'm short of breath, I normally would not be even remotely winded after ten minutes, but now I feel myself tiring out.

Afterwards I'm allowed to drink cranberry juice.  It's the first drink I've had in hours.  I wonder why I haven't been more thirsty, maybe it's the nitro IV?

The doctor asks where I'm from.   I tell her Illinois, and she explains that I look like I'm from Illinois.   I have no idea what this means.  

I tell her it's just like LA, except in Illinois we boo our teams.   

This gets a laugh.   Even when I'm dying, I have to get in a laugh.

I'm wheeled back for a second chest X-Ray.  This time they photograph the front and back of the heart.  I can watch the monitor from where I am laying, it reminds me of a lava lamp as I watch diagrams of my heart slowly form on the screen.  

From there I'm wheeled back to the ER.   The nitro patch is removed.  I get a call from my sister that she's out in the waiting room.

An older doctor comes up to shake my hand with his prognosis.   He reminds me of the doctor from Battlestar Galactica.  "Mr. Leiken, you appear to be fine.  No blood clots, no clogged arteries, no damage to the ventricles.  Your heart is fine.  We're going to release you."

I feel like I won the lottery.   I would give everything I own just to be healthy.

"What do I have?" I ask.

The doctor shakes his head.  "I don't know."

I stare at him.  Three gamma induced chest X-rays, one stress test, a handful of blood tests,  and they don't know.    

"We call it chest pain." the doctor continues.  "In the 30 years I've been in the ER, I've seen this everyday.  Someone comes in complaining of chest pains, we monitor them, and by the time we're done they are feeling fine and we send them home."

"What about my blood pressure?" I ask.

"It's elevated, but not life threatening.  Your blood pressure has also gone down considerably since you've been here."

"What about medication for the blood pressure?"

"You need to see your doctor about that and I recommend a cardiologist just to be safe, but personally, I don't think it would help.  Your blood is fine."

Ten minutes later I'm getting dressed to sign out.  I don't feel 100%, but I do feel better then when I entered.  I catch the eyes of a few other patients, they look at me with a mixture of joy and pure envy.

Mostly envy.